Gaining Alignment On Your Ideas

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So many great marketing ideas never see the light of day. It’s an unfortunate side effect of working in large organizations. The pro of a large company is that you have stability, but the con is that it often takes too many people agreeing on something to actually get it done.

Contrast that with a startup environment where a single decision maker can pave a path forward for new ideas. Startups are typically able to take more risk, partly because they have less to lose and everything to gain. And the flatter reporting structure helps, too.

Fortunately, there are some ways to gain alignment on your ideas when working with senior or cross-functional leadership. But it does take some experience and practice. So, today I’m sharing some of my favorite approaches and methods for gaining alignment on your ideas.

1) Idea Protection vs. Proactive Discussion

When working on marketing and innovation projects, many brand (and agency) leaders feel the need to protect ideas from others. Worried that another influential leader will slow down or even torpedo the work, they avoid directly involving others until it comes time for a final review.

This is a huge mistake.

Time and time again my experiences have shown that it’s better to get key stakeholders involved early in the process. You don’t have to do everything they say. This is where junior brand leaders get tripped up. Instead, you can filter feedback and learn to say no—and this skill is a prerequisite if you ever want to move up the brand ranks.

Here are a few other tips to help generate proactive discussion:

  • Over communicate—frequency is important, don’t leave people in the dark on what to expect
  • Establish a cadence—monthly 1:1 touch-bases with cross-functional leaders are always a good idea
  • Meet in person—face-to-face is hugely important to establishing trust
  • Make them feel heard—You can listen and acknowledge the valuable feedback of others, even if you choose to disagree

2) Briefings vs. Approvals

Wether it’s approving a new commercial campaign or green-lighting a new product launch, most marketing projects end with some sort of approval step. Brand leaders often show up to these meetings a lot of anxiety. What if they can’t get approval to move forward? What if things swirl out of control?

What most don’t realize: the secret key to unlocking alignment at the end of the project is to actually get alignment at the beginning of the project.

You’ve probably written a creative brief at some point to kick off creative work. But too many times, this step is skipped in favor of moving quickly.

I recommend you not only get alignment on a brief for campaign work, but also use briefs as your initial step for media buying, strategy and innovation projects.

Regardless of what the brief is actually for, the common thread in all of these scenarios is that brief needs to outline the business problem and the objective/desired outcome. Essentially—why the project exists and what success looks like.

Get alignment on those two things, and the approvals later will be the easy part.

3) Success Criteria and Documentation

If you’re ever put in a meeting room where you are presenting a point of view or recommendation for alignment, there’s one particular approach that never fails to get everyone on the same page.

It’s a two-step presentation method that helps you make your case and get heads nodding, and it goes like this:

  • Agree on the key decision criteria
  • Grade the recommendation against the criteria

If you can get senior leadership to agree on the success criteria, you are halfway there. Because then you simply play back to them how your idea or recommendation better meets the criteria vs. the alternatives.

For example, if you want alignment on which new product concept to move forward with, your criteria might be:

  • Relevance (consumer purchase interest scores)
  • Differentiation (new and different consumer ratings)
  • Feasibility (as rated by your cross-functional team)
  • Brand fit (as compared to your brand’s current equity)

Create a slide for each criteria. Or, if you are short on presentation time, a single page matrix where each idea/option is across the top and the criteria are down the side. Fill the cells with green/red/yellow according to your evaluation. Now you have something specific for the team to debate besides simply “liking” an idea or not.

Getting Things Done

Gaining alignment on your recommendations is perhaps one of the most important skills to master. Luckily it’s not just raw talent that gets you there. It’s something you can learn and master through practice.

If you can proactively engage stakeholders, align upfront on desired outcomes, and systematically present your recommendations, you will establish a clear reputation as someone who knows how to get the right people on board—and ultimately get things done.

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